I don’t think there was a single person on earth who wasn’t ready for a fresh start with 2021, but of course just two weeks into the year came some fairly crushing news for the photography world: Fuji 400h was being discontinued. So much for that great start we were hoping for! ;)
Fuji 400h has been extraordinarily influential on the little world of family and wedding film photography. We love it for its soft pastel tones, stunningly minty greens, and ability to handle overexposure like a champ. From brides to bouquets to babies, Fuji 400h has helped us create countless dreamy photographs.
Some photographers were unconcerned about the switch to Portra 400, and plenty preferred it over Fuji anyway. But for some of us (myself included), Fuji 400h was our constant companion, and we’d tried Portra but had never fallen in love: compared to Fuji, it felt warm and yellow and contrasty. In fact, I shot Fuji so regularly that I never even metered - I knew every lighting situation I shot in so well, and knew how much overexposure my film could handle, that it was the most natural thing in the world to shoot without metering.
All of that to say, while I never went and bought any extra Fuji after the announcement, I was certainly not excited that my favorite film stock was about to be gone for good. But I also preferred to make the switch sooner rather than later, so I decided to dive right in, ready or not.
And… it’s been amazing! Between learning some of the ins and outs of Portra 400, working with my lab to make sure my scans match my preferences as much as possible, and simply being patient with the process (and accepting that there will be a little learning curve), I have been overwhelmingly happy with my new go-to stock. I miss Fuji on occasion, especially with spring arriving and bringing back pastels and greens, but for the most part, my images have remained incredibly consistent and my clients definitely cannot tell a difference!
If you’re putting off making the switch to Portra because of all the ways you feel it might go wrong, or if you’ve been trying it out and not loving your results, I hope you can find some encouragement and help from these five tips below!
1. Portra is not light hungry.
In my own experience, Fuji 400h could be overexposed an incredible amount before starting to lose any of its beauty, but Portra 400 is not quite as flexible with overexposure - the colors shift with overexposure sooner than they ever did with Fuji. On the bright side, Portra looks much better to me in low light than Fuji ever did! I really love that it gives me a little more latitude with indoor lighting or soft dusk light than Fuji did.
In the end, both film stocks are very flexible and I typically err on the side of overexposing. However, I am more careful with Portra in this way, and also can rely on prettier results indoors or late in the evening when I would’ve needed more light for my Fuji.
If you use Photovision like I do, then it is definitely time to make use of their exposure reference sheets! You can find these on their website, and then compare your negative images to these references to see if you’re exposing correctly. These reference sheets are incredibly helpful and I highly recommend spending some time comparing your own negatives to them!
2. Portra loves blues.
Fuji 400h is so widely loved for its incredible greens, but what I’ve noticed with Portra 400 is its gorgeous rendering of blues! For those of you near the ocean or other bodies of water, you may find that the beautiful blue tones that Portra captures are well worth the tradeoff. Even denim and blue sky render more beautifully in my opinion!
Also, talking to your lab will play a big role in the tones of your scans. My lab knows that I want my Portra scans to be cool, bright, and match my Fuji ones as closely as possible, and my reference images have stayed the same during my switch. This means that the greens I see in my Portra scans are very close to my Fuji greens! And thankfully, using the HSL panel in Lightroom is incredibly easy if you need a little extra adjustment in order to still get minty, pastel foliage.
3. Play with lighting scenarios and experiment.
Switching to a new film stock means that it's time to experiment again! I have played with Portra in many lighting situations so that I can see how it handles indoor light, midday sun, low sunset light, lens flare, direct lighting, and more. While my results aren’t drastically different than my Fuji, there have been many nuances to Portra that give it a very distinct feel. And I’ve discovered that I particularly love playing with direct light with Portra!
All film handles direct light SO beautifully compared to what digital can capture, but there has been something a little extra magical about my Portra in direct light. And trying out a new film stock is the perfect time to remember to use different types of lighting and keep working your creative eye.
4. Be intentional in choosing a scanner.
I have tried Noritsu on my scans in the past, but I always have gone back to scanning on the Frontier. However, when using a new film stock, I knew it was important to compare scanners again and make a fresh and intentional decision for my Portra work.
Photovision offers a free comparison scan, so I immediately took them up on that offer so that I could look at the same images scanned by Frontier versus Noritsu. My personal preference has actually remained the Frontier, but this is such a personal decision and both produce beautiful results. Make sure to compare your own results on each scanner, because they differ enough in the tones that they produce that it might make a difference between feeling ‘okay’ about your scans and feeling truly excited about them!
Frontier (left) vs. Noritsu (right)
Frontier (left) vs. Noritsu (right)
5. Be patient!
When learning a new medium - even if it’s just another film stock - there is a learning curve, and that is absolutely okay. You may not start out loving your Portra scans like you loved your Fuji scans, but be patient, and don’t forget to talk to your lab along the way. It is so important to remember that what we see online is the absolute best that everyone else is producing, and the truth is that everyone ends up with scans sometimes that they’re underwhelmed by. If this is happening frequently, then it’s definitely time to set up a call with your lab so that they can help you troubleshoot, and see if your preference images need to be adjusted or if you need to be exposing differently for better results, etc. But they’re on your team, and with time and intention you WILL be able to get to know Portra well and produce work you absolutely love!
While Fuji will always hold a special place in my heart as the stock that made me fall in love with film, there is so much beauty ahead of us, and I fully believe that, with a little encouragement and some helpful tips, this transition can be a wonderful one. Happy shooting, film friends!